I was a reading child. I got books from our village library, our town library, and the city library. Books from Providence would come home with my father, who would go there and get three at a time for me, recommended by the children's librarian. (No -- I never visited a school library, though I'm now a school librarian.) I lived in these books. Besides playing outdoors, in the small woods and on the shore, and riding my bike all over the neighborhood, reading is where I lived. When my father would come home with three new books, I'd wait till after supper or bedtime, get into my pajamas, then get into bed and examine each one in the stack -- smell it, look at it, savor its promise, then decide which one to read first. One day when I was about nine, he brought home what would become one of my favorite, most magical books. It was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Once I went into that wardrobe, my life changed forever. My bedroom had a large closet under the eaves, and I'd lie in bed at night, KNOWING that if I just believed hard enough I could go into my closet and reach back and enter Narnia. I never got out of bed and actually tried -- so maybe some part of me also knew that it wouldn't happen. Such is the duality of childhood thinking and desire. You KNOW that it's true, that the only thing lacking is your lack of faith. And you're not willing to risk being wrong. So you go on thinking about your closet and what might happen if you really try. (Just as, a few years later in junior high school, when I went on a science fiction reading jag, thanks to the tastes of a boy I had a crush on, I KNEW that if I believed and tried hard enough, then ESP would work, and I could silently transmit my thoughts to David Sanderson across the room.)
Sunday, January 25
Narnia was where I wanted to go, and I read the magical book more than once and lived inside it. But -- and this baffles me -- I never found out till much later that there were other books in the series. I guess I always had enough to read, and I didn't talk about my reading with anyone, and the wonderful and anonymous librarian who sent these treasures home didn't think to send me more Narnia books, so I never knew that there were more.
Then some years later, in college, my friend Jennifer and I discovered Tolkien and also made friends with a graduate student at the Episcopal Theological School and his wife, who was a children's librarian. And this wonderful woman, Carol Hole, fed Jennifer and me with wonderful new children's books that we'd missed and ones that were new, and we discovered the remaining six Narnia books. And were not too old or sophisticated to enjoy them with the same intensity as our child selves. And we also discovered that Blackwells Bookshop in Oxford,England, would send us books on faith that we'd pay. So we acquired lovely hardcover versions of Narnia, and Lord of the Rings, and Charles Williams, and other writers. I still have these books, but I doubt that Blackwells is now so free about sending to unknown Americans.
And now, today, because my job kept me imprisoned for several hours of low-key supervision of teenage boys, I read all of Laura Miller's book about Narnia ("the Chronicles," as she calls them). Since I'm a huge fan of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials books, I've read his virulent opposition to Lewis's fiction and been ambivalent about my own love of the Narnia books. But the brilliant and articulate Laura Miller has redeemed them for me, putting such criticisms in their place. I'm not writing here a review of Miller's very fluent and personal book but a suggestion that anyone who has been enchanted by Narnia might like to read what Miller has to say in The Magician's Book.